Monday, June 20, 2005

Notes from a Non-Believer Part I


Let me begin by saying that I am alarmed by what I see as the dominant trend in the modern world. I do my best to resist the dehumanizing influences so prevalent in the mass consumerism that so pervades modern day America. I do not believe in making my intelligence, capacity to reason and ability to make judgments based on what is true, subservient to whatever is established as the current norm or popular thinking. I do not accept the bullshit morality that has as its premise the idea that a singular culture or people has a monopoly on righteousness and is free to impose, by brute force, its own model of living on anyone in the world it chooses. I am not a believer in a system that places the individual at the pinnacle of importance and regards all life, human or otherwise, as inherently expendable in the pursuit of personal aggrandizement. I do not adhere to the principle that profit determines the ultimate value and worth of everything whether living or not.

The intricacies of societal beliefs can be posited in the following arenas of social discourse: politics, religion, mass culture, economics, science, medicine and the arts. I will comment on each of these in the remaining pages of this piece.


Politics, in the modern world, is something to behold. Communism which sprouted from the carnage left by mercenary capitalism at the beginning of the industrial age held a lot of promise for those who were very desirous of change. At that time the burgeoning industries of steel, oil, mining, manufacturing, food production, etc, rose on the blood, sickness and death of ordinary workers, including the elderly, women and children, who were regarded with nothing less than contempt by their employers. Theoretically, communism projected a world free of oppression and mind numbing and physically devastating work. It had a view of work and the worker that was diametrically opposed to the capitalist conception of a worker as an adjunct to production with little or no say in the means of production. The goals of communism were egalitarian in nature and revolutionary in scope. It was with great hope and expectation that the world welcomed the successful communist revolutions in Russia and China. It was not long, however, before the brutal nobility that dominated and oppressed the peoples of these countries were supplanted by yet another cadre of elite and privileged individuals. It was not long before the ideology was corrupted by the usual striving for power and dominance. The everyday lives of ordinary people were only marginally affected for the better over the course of many years.
The ideology of Capitalism was in direct competition with that of Communism. These ideologies clashed all over the world as the United States, the most powerful capitalist state, vied for dominance with the Soviet Union on all the continents. Now the Soviet Union has literally fallen apart. Its member states are now on their own independent courses. It is Russia now that is left, a Russia with a devastated economy and a desperate people due in no small part to the “assistance” of the IMF and the World Bank. The United States currently stands as the only super-power. It gloats over its supposed victory over “godless communism” and has taken full credit for its apparent demise. This claim is a spurious one. The Soviet Union fell apart of its own weight. Its reach had far exceeded its real power. The U.S. does not, however, take full credit for the millions upon millions of lives that were obliterated at the hands of the capitalist industrial war machine to ensure that communism fail in its goals. It refuses to acknowledge the slaughter of the peoples of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Korea, Nicaragua, Chile, Indonesia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras and many others who dared to have a different vision of the world than a capitalist utopia where humans main purpose for living and breathing is to be reliable and steadfast consumers of all the products capitalism has to offer. It is a cold and icy utopia that the U.S. promises. One, in which, the powerful rule and in which the rest of us are expected to be grateful for whatever leftovers happens to come our way.

So for the moment, Capitalism is in the ascendancy, disguising its brutal tactics and methods under the canopy of democracy: a democracy that is not to be questioned as to its validity. In many ways, democracy, like communism, although full of lofty ideals has become a hollow vestment to be worn on state occasions, to be paraded in ostentatious ceremonies, to be trumpeted by self-serving politicians and echoed by vacuous talking heads and TV news anchormen. In the capitalist scheme of things, democracy is dutifully abandoned at the place of employment, for there the worker, his labor, his time, his interests, his skills, his proficiencies are totally owned, exploited and paid for by the employer. In the capitalist scheme of things, living itself is a commodity that can be delineated into discrete parts all capable of being exploited for profit. In such a system, health, aging, dying, education, recreation are subject to the vicissitudes and whims of the marketplace. The necessities of life like food, water, and shelter are under the control of the powerful and can be withheld from those unable to afford them. Within such a structure, only the powerful are freed from the oppressive mechanisms of the marketplace. The true brutality of this structure is readily revealed to the thinking mind, through a thorough assessment of the way the world actually works. I believe in none of the jingoistic pronouncements that have little or no basis in reality.

There is much discussion about the “free world” and the leaders of the free world. The “democratic” ideologues point to all the shining examples of democracy that exist as proof of the superior nature of the democratic capitalist system. Once you penetrate through the veneer of these democracies, you begin to see the real structure of these societies. Let’s take Colombia as a case in point. This democracy is, if fact, a sham. The affluent class, which represents a vanishingly small percentage of the population, controls a staggering percentage of the wealth, the land, the economic assets etc. Forty percent of the population is desperately poor. If democracy represents the voice of the people, it has very selective hearing indeed. Old fashioned capitalism has donned a cloak of respectability. It has not changed its savage ways, but hides behind the political niceties that make headlines in all the capitalist mega media publications. The capitalists have come to own the airways, and they put this resource to meticulously good use.

I am not terribly beholding to this “free” world where vast armies of poor and disenfranchised are perpetually tottering near the brink, ill prepared for the abyss of penury and desperation that awaits them. I have no particular loyalty to this free world where the middle classes are constantly in jeopardy and can become destitute by the slightest change in weather and the ill wind of economic calamity.
Capitalism is forever on the lookout for more markets for its goods. It will use any method at its disposal to carve out these markets even if it means going to war to achieve its ends. Capitalism is a great ravenous creature that needs prodigious amounts of energy to run the machinery of production. The momentum of this system which is in fact an earth destroyer is referred to as progress. It will go to any lengths to insure that it has access to energy regardless of the implications for the rest of the planet. This is the nature of the beast. It is insatiable and essentially self-destructive. Capitalism although it is so full of self praise is, in fact, a failed system. The extent of this failure will only become clear when the planet is no longer able to sustain human life. It is the capitalist system that encourages and coerces governments of the so-called Third World that have a wealth of resources, to enter into contractual arrangements that lead to the exploitation of those resources at the expense of the poor. There are many examples of this behavior: The British in India, The U.S. in the Philippines, Iraq, Indonesia, Columbia and Bolivia and the Dutch in Africa. This way of doing business with the rest of the world is ordinarily referred to as imperialism. Imperialistic policies generally operate at the expense of the poor of the world, who represent a majority of the world’s population.

These are the obvious realities of the present world. These are the realities that are kept from the American people, and for good reason. It is not in the interests of the powerful for ordinary citizens to know the extent to which much of the world pays to subsidize American consumption of the earth’s vital resources (about forty percent of the total).

I do not believe that we are entitled to consume like ravenous and unthinking predators at the expense of tens of millions of human beings who have been massacred by the industrial war machine so that we might live well. I do not believe that we, as a people, are, in any way superior to the inhabitants of the rest of the planet. Quite to the contrary, the blood and death that this nation has been built upon suggest that we are severely intellectually challenged and must rely on brute power to advance our interests. It is a success that is buoyed up by a savagery that is hard to imagine. It is a success that is, in fact, doomed to failure.

I do not believe that human life is only to be valued when it is shown to have been productive, for the idea of productivity that is held up as the ideal, is measured in the narrowest of terms. The productivity by which we are to evaluate ourselves is essentially economic in scope. All one need do to prove this point, is to look at to what extent teachers, social workers, caregivers, nurses, artists, thinkers, intellectuals, poets, writers are truly valued as compared to CEOs of companies such as Philip Morris whose products kills tens of thousands of people each year, to the managers of the war industries whose products are unimaginably lethal, and to the TV anchormen and TV journalists who function primarily as the shills to the multi-national corporations. Although politicians wax profoundly regarding the extent to which life is held dear in this society, the reverse is closer to the truth. Life in this capitalist consumer-oriented society is cheap, very cheap. This is by means a novel or preposterous suggestion. Just take a trip down any back road in rural America. Visit the so-called inner cities, which are ghettoes after all. Tour the nation’s prisons, the soup kitchens, homeless shelters, etc., and get a first hand look at just how human life is really valued.

I do not accept the idea that we actually have a functional representative democracy. By and large, the members of both the House and Senate have been purchased by the affluent class. Their main function is to propose and pass legislation that benefits those who live in the rarefied atmosphere of wealth and power. A corollary to this role is to impede and undermine any proposed legislation that would directly benefit the working or so-called lower classes. The evidence for this assertion is quite unambiguous. How else would you account for the skewed priorities of our legislative representatives? How else would you explain the fact that the nation does not have a national health care plan and that over forty-four million individuals have no medical insurance? How else would you explain the fact that the infrastructure of the nation’s public schools is in terrible condition while very expensive weapons of war are in various stages of development or production? How else would you explain the denuding of resources for both human and environmental welfare, while massive bailouts have been accorded to faltering institutions such as the Savings and Loan banks? These are but a few examples of just how poorly the needs of the many are being met or worsened by public policy.

I do not believe that racism is dead and that we have become, quite miraculously, an egalitarian society where skin color is of no consequence. Quite to the contrary, we, in many respects, rival the old apartheid system of South Africa. The schools are essentially separate and unequal, the prisons are filled with black males far out of proportion to their representation in the population, blacks suffer terrible discrimination in the health care system, and for that reason have longevity statistics that would be shameful in any other modern industrial society. Many of our inner cities are reminiscent of the townships of South Africa under apartheid, where the main role of the police is to contain the rage that ripples through their communities. All these glaring truths are ignored by the politicians who often speak utter nonsense.

I am unconvinced that our press is free. The press routinely censors the kind of news that is presented to the populace. The news it does impart is generally scrubbed of any substantial information that would make the motives of the U.S. government seem suspect. Examples of the news that was effectively suppressed by the national media are many. The stories that were omitted or substantially under-reported include the:
• Magnitude of the scandal regarding the felony lists used to exclude vast numbers of black people from the poles in Florida on Election Day 2000. A behavior that would have called for the use of international election monitors in any other country except this one
• The extent of U.S. involvement in the Indonesian government’s crimes against the Indonesian people in the 1960s and more recently against the East Timorese
• The secret war in Cambodia which exterminated hundreds of thousands of Cambodian civilians
• The extent to which the Bush family has been personally enriched as a direct result of its administrations’ foreign policy adventures especially in the oil rich regions of the word.
This list could go on and on. Since much of the media is owned by multinationals with strong ties to the government via its lobbying efforts and campaign contributions, it has a vested interest in portraying the world in a certain light.

I do not believe that the natural environment can be sustained much longer without putting a great deal of life on the planet at grave and terrible risk. Poisons are being steadily dumped into the planet’s atmosphere, rivers, oceans, soil even though their biological destructiveness has been well established. What is the rationale for this crazed behavior? The answer is, of course, profit. The profit motive will make the earth essentially uninhabitable if the present behavior is not dramatically transformed. To value profit above all else is to doom the prospects for a viable future. We are busily poisoning ourselves in the name of progress. Recent evidence, for example, regarding the level of fire retardant chemicals in human breast milk among American women is 10 to 20 fold greater than in the women of Europe. The reporting of this horrendous reality produced no public outcry and was treated as if it was part of the norm in spite of the alarming rate of breast cancer in American women. What better illustration of the extent to which the American public is suffering from severe collective amnesia. Such is the crazed state of the modern world. Where is sanity to be found in the light of this reality? If we choose not to reclaim our humanity, the world that awaits our children will be a decimated one. If we allow witless ideology to overwhelm the remaining remnants of reasoned intelligence, we will have no future. If we do not shatter the preposterous myths that enslave us, we will proceed sheep-like to our own destruction. I do not believe in such a future.

And there is the matter of war. War is an obscene magnification of the capacity of humans to do harm to members of their own species whom they have come to see as their enemies. War is the failure of politics. War impedes real human progress. War is a scavenger on the carcass of humanity. War is the cannibal of civilization. War is a world eater.

We are not born with enemies. At first sight, the infant sees the world around him or her as intriguing, frightening, stimulating, foreboding and for the most part unknown. An infant does not lash out aggressively at what is unknown, but rather finds comfort and delight in the bosom of his mother. Love and nurture are, or should be, the components of the environment of a growing child.

It is culture and history which bends and twists that nature to conform to whatever set of mores happens to be prevalent at the time. It is often education that invokes and encourages feelings of fear, dread, suspicion and hatred for other members of the species identified as foreign. The idea of being “foreign” can include such diverse elements as skin color, ethnic origin, religious and political beliefs.

It is the powerful that propel the idea of war, for it is the powerful that choose to use overt force to achieve political and economic ends when all other options either fail or are dismissed outright. Obviously, the powerful are too few in number and often too cowardly to achieve their goals on their own. They must enlist huge armies and align technology to their aims. Modern industrial warfare uses such technology. Armies are populated mostly by the poor, and they are encouraged to kill and die for the fatherland. The population is cajoled into thinking that war is the only solution by exploiting fear regarding the enemy, a fear that has been driven into their minds over a lifetime. The enemy is invariably foreign and pictured as a threat to “civilization.” In order for the savagery of war to be sanctioned and legitimized, the enemy must be dehumanized, viewed as some kind of bug, beast or vermin whose very existence is inimical to those who must annihilate them.

In the end, war consumes both human and economic capital and paints a picture of humanity that is poignant and pathetic. It is a sad testimonial to the human experiment. If humans are to ever progress, war not only must end, but must become obsolete in the very fabric of human thinking.

For society to thrive, power and wealth must become more equitably distributed. Equality must be established in the work place. Excess wealth must be used to fund social programs that benefit all members of society regardless of social standing. Adequate health care must be readily available to everyone. Homelessness must be abolished. All these goals do not represent a wish list, but must be implemented and are necessary prerequisites if we want a viable and thriving world for our descendents.

Education is a major vehicle towards these goals. The burgeoning minds of the young need to be introduced to the wonders of science, art, literature, history, mathematics, etc. The natural curiosity and inquisitiveness of the young must be encouraged and nurtured. Prejudices need to be exposed for what they are. All humans share common characteristics and qualities of being that need to be emphasized. A study of history and the human mind are essential in any attempt to fathom human behavior. Such studies would counteract the insidious propaganda that makes the wholly irrational claim that individuals and whole societies can be simplistically placed in the all-encompassing categories of good and evil, ally or enemy.

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